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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

County Carlow GAA

Pat Dowling


30 June 2007

This article previously appeared in Hogan Stand - National GAA Football & Hurling magazine.
Hogan Stand GAA magazine first hit the shelves in 1991 and over the past 14-years has provided the GAA enthusiast with all the best interviews with the key people in hurling, football, camogie and handball.
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30 June 2007

Pat Dowling - The heart of Ballinkillen

A hurling giant was laid to rest in Ballinkillen churchyard. He may not have won All-Ireland medals, he never graced Croke Park, indeed, to the best of my knowledge, he never wore the county jersey but, make no mistake, Pat Dowling was a hurling giant.

Along the highways and byways of Ireland you will meet many great hurling men, men whose passion for and interest in the clash of the ash is all consuming, men who led their town or parish to the ’promised land’.

Pat Dowling was one such man and the ’promised land’ was the Carlow Senior Hurling Championship of 2001; rarely, if ever, has a championship victory owed so much to the vision and diligence of one single-minded character as did Ballinkillen’s to Pat Dowling.

However the same Pat Dowling; didn’t fit the usual stereotype associated with steering a club to hurling glory. Normally someone like the local schoolteacher, a crusading priest or maybe a former star hurler would take the local youths by the had and guide them up through the ranks.

In Ballinkillen it was Pat Dowling; the same Pat Dowling who had a taste for fast motorbikes and flamboyant clothes! But Pat also had a taste for hard work; a journeyman hurler in his younger days, he was a player who made the most of this ability by this willingness to hone his skills in the training field and, one suspects that it was during those diligent work-outs that the Ballinkillen man learned many of the techniques that were to stand him in good stead when he turned to coaching.

Pat’s own career was plagued with ill-luck or bad-timing! A mite too young when Ballinkillen won the Senior Hurling Championship in 1973, just 17 when Terry and Tim Byrne, Cyril Hughes, the Farrells and Tom Collier et al stormed to a county final victory over Myshall.

Pat made his senior championship debut two years later, joining up with many of the heroes of ’73 but Carlow Town shocked Ballinkillen in the quarter-final, the teenage Dowling lining out at left half-back.

By the time Ballinkillen next won the Senior Championship, 2001, Pat Dowling’s playing days were well over, he having suffered the heartache of losing two County senior finals to Naomh Eoin in 1976, to Carlow Town in 1979.

Pat was a star midfielder with Ballinkillen in the 1977 County U21 final, his side narrowly beaten by Carlow Town and was overage the following year when Ballinkillen gained sweet revenge! Something similar at minor, Kilcloney lost a championship semi-final to the all-conquering Michael Davitt’s side in Pat’s final year; two years later the Ballinkillen/Borris/Ballymurphy amalgamation won the championship.

Indeed for all his hurling Pat Dowling won just one championship medal, right corner-back when Ballinkillen won the Intermediate Championship in 1990 but by then he was equally involved in coaching the youth of the area having been a founder member of the Juvenile Club, steering the U14s to All-Ireland Feile no nGael glory in 1989.

It was in that same 1989 I first came to know Pat Dowling though our first ’conversation’ was a little heated! An Intermediate championship match in Bagenalstown, Ballinkillen’s first team against Carlow Town’s ’second-string’, we had won the Junior the previous year and fancied our chances of going the whole way at the higher grade too.

I was corner-forward, Pat a tight-marking corner-back, too tight in my opinion, illegally tight i thought and voiced that opinion to the referee when another ’obvious free’ was ignored. "Go way out of that and stop your townie whinging," or words to that effect was Pat’s immediate response and the last time I was talking to him he was of the same mind?!

It was over a year ago, I had predicted that Erin’s Own, fresh from their Leinster and All-Ireland Club exploits, would beat Pat’s beloved Ballinkillen in a Senior Championship opener only for Ballinkillen to record a resounding victory. Met Pat outside Oscar’s and remarked on their impressive win to which he quickly replied "we have to keep the townies down"!

In between those two ’townie’ tales I shared many a hurling chat with Dowling and his wife Ann and after Clare won the All Ireland in 1995 who were the first people I should meet that I know (outside of ’Mouse’ Murphy of Nurney on the Canal End) but the Dowlings. Truth to tell I was on such a ’high’ I don’t remember much of that meeting though it’s in my mind that Pat passed a remark that it was good to see me sporting the Ballinkillen colours!

Six years later we were to meet again after a hurling final, only this time Pat was the man on a ’high’ having helped steer Ballinkillen to that famous 2001 Senior Hurling Championship success. I was reporting the county final for The Nationalist that wet, wet day and later tracked down the Ballinkillen contingent for a few after-match quotes, the journalist in me fishing for an angle, the veteran player and the inspirational coach. My prayers were answered as the following excerpts testifies.

"Devereux’s, the sponsors of the Carlow SHC, was awash with hurlers on Sunday evening as the after-match reception for both minor and senior teams afforded the protagonists, their mentors and supporters relive the on field action in more convivial surroundings. Drying out in a Licensed Premises might seem a contradiction in terms but that is exactly wheat all concerned were doing having endured the horrendously wicked wet conditions in Dr Cullen Park. "Callinkillen, thought, were feeling no pain, two superb displays bringing a brilliant double to the little village and its surrounds which was festooned in blue and gold all week.

"The first man this scrive met was, appropriately, Paddy Brennan, at 38, the oldest man on the field and scorer of a fine first half goal. How about a quote for the paper, Paddy, how does it feel to win a medal after 22 years? "Jeez, I’m not too good at this sort of thing," says the big full-forward but then reveals a bit of what the Yanks would refer to as ’sports visualisation’.

"I was going into the bank this morning to get money and then I was thinking to myself that this was tempting fate, to bring money to party when..."

"Before the genial Paddy could finish mentor Pat Dowling piped in "Put down that it’s the first time Brennan brought money!" It was that type of evening. "Pat Dowling himself, along with such men as his brother Tommy, Eamon O’Neill, Tommy Kinsella and Sean Dalton have put in Trojan work at underage level with Ballinkillen, work which is now bearing fruit."

I was delighted for Pat Dowling that day, delighted to shake his hand, for many our precious meetings had taken place in a virtually deserted County Grounds after Juvenile B finals as I checked Ballinkillen’s line-out and scorers with him or quiet side-kick Eamon O’Neill. I once dubbed Ballinkillen the ’B Specials’, such was their frequency in U12, U14 and U16 finals, a constant feature the coach on the sideline with the clipboard, the first coach in my experience to use such a modern prop. That coach was Pat Dowling and soon the clipboard was being used at A finals and after that 2001 Senior triumph, the minor A three-in-a-row, the winning of the U-16 A in 1992 and the U-14 A in 1997 would have been a huge source of joy to Pat Dowling.

It was Pat who christened Ballinkillen’s ’Hurlers Mile’, it was Pat who fashioned those hurlers and it was those hurlers who carried Pat to his final resting place. A hurling giant, who battled serious illness with the same bravery he brought to the hurling field, the photograph that accompanies this column was taken on the occasion presented for outstanding work at juvenile level and an award that meant a hell of a lot to Pat Dowling.

To his wife Anne, daughter Emma, son PJ, brothers Tommy and John, Sister Jeanie and his many, many friends we extend out deepest sympathy.

Pat Dowling - An Appreciation

When the news broke that Pat had died there was a dazed reaction among the members of Ballinkillen Hurling Club. We were dazed because, even though everyone knew that Pat was fighting a losing battle with his illness, such had been his omnipresence and his influence in the club that it was almost inconceivable to envisage the club without him. Indeed, it can be said that without his work over the years, the club as it exists might me an entirely different entity or might possible have ceased to exist.

Pat had always been a club stalwart from the first time that he pulled on the jersey. He brought the same focus and determination to his hurling that he had shown in his athletics career during which he had been a specialist long distance and cross-country runner. Not for him the puerile excuses for missing training. When pat signed on for something he was in for the long haul and gave everything to achieve whatever goal had been set.

He played on two Senior Hurling finals in 1976 and 1979. The first final saw him operating at corner forward and the second saw him at corner back; a tribute both to his versatility and his willingness to do whatever hob the club needed done. Unfortunately, both of these final appearances ended in defeat and even though Pat tasted victory in two Bolger Cup wins these defeats strengthened his resolve to win a Senior Hurling Championship. Nobody thought in 1979 that Ballinkillen, who had contested four finals in the 1970s, would not be in another final until 2001. In fact in the 1980s Pat saw his beloved Ballinkillen relegated to Intermediate status and true to form set about remedying the situation. In 1987 Ballinkillen had an intermediate team and nothing else. Cometh the hour cometh the man. Pat, as always, instead of lamenting the situation, put in place a plan to provide a long term solution to the player deficit problem; he became a founder member of Ballinkillen Juvenile Club. This took place in that same year and laid the foundations for success to come. To say that Pat was the main mover in the progress subsequently made by the club would be like saying that Ger Loughnane was mildly interested in the success of Clare hurling. Without him it wouldn’t have happened.

Success was almost immediate.

In 1989, a Ballinkillen team qualified for Feile and went on to win their division; the manager was Pat Dowling. This was one of his sporting exploits which gave him the greatest pleasure. The significance of the day could not be overstated as the club minor team made it a double by winning a third minor title in a row. Not alone had Pat’s work embellished the present it had ensured the future of the club.

Between 1987 and 2006 and even through his illness Pat filled a variety of roles in the club. It must also be remembered that during this time he was building up a couple of businesses epitomising the axiom, "If you want something done ask a busy man to do it". No task was too big or too small. At various times he was a selector or manager and acted as a secretary for many years. During this time, in midweek, he went to collect players who were away in school to ensure that the relevant team had the best possible chance of winning. He organised all sorts of fundraising events; tea parties, supper dances and Lord Mayoral elections. If he wasn’t sponsoring the jerseys himself he was cajoling someone else into doing it. Talking of the same jerseys, for years he washed dup to four sets a week in his laundrette without ever asking the club for a cent. This work was recognised on a number of occasions when Pat was voted clubman of the year.

Pat had a way of getting people to work for him. Because of the amount of work that he put in, when he asked it was done. The moral authority of his major contribution which backed every request meant that only a tiny minority refused. The esteem in which he was held and the respect for him were evident in the turnout at the arrival of his remains in Ballinkillen. This was particularly shown in the long guard of honour made up of current and former Ballinkillen and Fenagh players and members who flanked Pat’s remains as he was carried by relays of his clubmates, with a poignant stop outside Ballinkillen’s pitch, on his way to his final resting place.

To borrow from Tomas O Croimthain’s book on the Blasket Islans, An tOileaneach, and change it slightly; we will not see his likes again.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis

Cyril Hughes

 Ballinkillen’s county men pay tribute to Pat...

From the time I started hurling about seven or eight years of age I can remember Pat being in the hurling field whether it be training or matches; Pat was the backbone of the juvenile club, in getting it started. He taught me an awful lot about hurling, his proudest day would have been when we won the senior in 2001, having coached nearly all the panel at underage level. He also took great pride in anyone that went on to play for the county. I think there’s not enough words to justify what he did for Ballinkillen Hurling Club.

-Andrew Gaul

I suppose my abiding memory of Pat in Ballinkillen is the fact that he was an ever present in the club and would be there for every match from U12 up and all club events in between. The other thing I will always remember is the fact that he always had a smile and a laugh and some encouragement for your no matter what the situation on the pitch.

-Colin Hughes,

Source: Leo McGough, Courtesy of The Carlow Nationalist. June 2007

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